Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

News Shorts & Other Busyness

Mental Health & One Young Offender

Squall 6, Spring 1994, pg. 33.

Among a multitude of social malaises we are being led to ignore recently, are the results of a Samaritans Report published in November last year. It informed the nation that the last ten years has seen a staggering 80% increase in suicides amongst young males.

A recent BBC Radio Four programme reported on Government suggestions for tackling the problem. This consisted of increasing the number of guards stationed on ’favourite' bridges as a way of curbing the number of people who jump off them. The Government also claimed that a reduction in the toxicity of car exhaust would help reduce the incidence of the most popular form of suicide - gassing yourself. The issue of what has actually led to such a manifestly rapid increase in desperation over the last 10 years remains devoid of official comment.

Perhaps the dramatic increase in suicides is due to the “New British disease” that Michael Portillo (Chief Secretary to the Treasury) talked of in his speech to the right wing ‘Way Forward’ group in mid-January.

“The disease shows itself in a readiness to denigrate our country and praise others; to devalue our achievements, and envy others; to hold our national institutions in contempt and look with approval on other people’s; to deride every one of our national figures. A poison has been spread by pessimists. The nihilism has transformed every British institution into an object of ridicule.”

Although Conservative philosophy places great emphasis on earning your living, Mr Portillo obviously does not consider that this extends to earning your respect. A recent national opinion poll (Observer/ICM) found that only 12% of those questioned actually thought that politicians were trustworthy.

But, claims Portillo, “Britain’s House of Commons remains the world’s foremost debating chamber” and invites the nation to respect it as such. And all this despite the fact that the Government’s use of the ‘guillotining’ technique to rush legislation through without a debate - most recently implemented for the budget - has been a regular parliamentary feature. The existence of an effective Government opposition is necessary for a debating chamber to operate, and it is something we do not have in this country.

Perhaps then it is each individual’s personal frustration with an unaccountable and unrepresentative political system that contributes to such pessimism. But, for those who haven’t given way to such understandable pessimism, still seeking to have their voice heard in this ‘democracy’, Portillo reserves little respect:

“We should not allow the national debate to be driven by the agendas of a tiny minority. We don’t see pressure groups for what they are: one dimensional. Other countries are more alert to the self-seeking nature of lobby group arguments.”

“….other countries....”

What? .... Didn’t you just say that part of the disease was to “denigrate our country and praise others”???

So what is Michael Portillo’s reason for this increase in pessimism?

“I believe the principal reason is because for decades we have allowed ourselves to fall prey to cynics, egalitarians and socialists.”

And his solution?

“With self-confidence and self-respect we can add to our national achievements and revive our national pride.”

Hence to rally the flag, a multi-million pound D-Day anniversary celebration planned for this June and the closure of Guys Hospital in London due to a lack of funds.

Suicide is a perverse way to change your environment - but the dramatic increases shout out the desperate need for change in our collective environment, both political and psychological.

The present Government is 14 years old and ripe for a stretch in a penal institution for juvenile delinquents.